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Richie Tozier had often thought that he would never kiss anyone, or that if he did, he wouldn't like it, because it wouldn't actually be anyone that he wanted to kiss. He thought it might be some girl, awkwardly, in high school, maybe at a party. But he would hate it because it would be a girl, and if he was being honest with himself (he rarely was), because it wouldn't be Eddie.

Richie was right, because his first kiss was at a party, and it was awkward. He was wrong because it was with a boy (he was also right that he he didn't enjoy it as much, because it wasn't Eddie).

Richie was sixteen, and he had no idea how he'd gotten invited to the party in the first place, because everyone kind of hated him. But a boy the year above the losers had approached him as he'd been about to head to his usual lunch table with his friends, who were all already there.

"Tozier, right?" The boy asked, and Richie had no fucking clue who he was, he thought maybe they'd taken an AP class together last year, but he was blanking on the name.

"Who's asking?" Richie asked, most people didn't just talk to Richie, because like the other losers, they had a cloud around them (a cloud named Henry Bowers), and when most people talked to him they were just there to call him some shitty name and moved on.

The boy smiled at him, and it made Richie's stomach flutter a little. Richie felt a little sick to his stomach at the thought of that. "I'm Andrew," He said, "Some of my friends are throwing a party tonight, I was wondering if you wanted to come?"

Richie's mind immediately screamed two things at him: He's fucking with you! And You might be able to kiss someone.

He shook off that second thought, because it had come out of nowhere.

His mouth said: "Uh, okay?"

"Cool," The guy said, shrugging. He pulled a pen out of his pocket and grabbed Richie's hand, jotting down an address on his arm. Richie felt heat rush to his cheeks, he pointedly ignored Andrew's eyes. "Around 10?"

"Okay," Richie said, and then felt stupid for saying it again, so he added, "See you there."

Richie was very confused. He was about 95% percent sure that Andrew was fucking with him, because he had never been invited to a party before, and definitely not by an older guy, and definitely not like that. The other 5% said that this was his chance. He felt sick enough because he wanted to kiss guys, he sometimes wanted to throw up if he thought too much about Eddie. If Andrew hadn't just invited him as some sort of stupid joke, then there was a distinct possibility he liked Richie.

Richie felt immediately stupid for thinking it. Even if Andrew was like Richie, he wouldn't be so blatant about it. And not towards Richie, a stupid gangly sophomore.

Definintely fucking with me, Richie decided, he was certain of that. He still wanted to go though, he still had to see.

The losers were all waiting for him expectantly when he reached the table. He hid his arm out of sight of the others as took his seat.

"What was that about?" Stan asked, as soon as he sat down. The other losers looked just as eager to hear.

Richie glanced quickly at Eddie, who was looking across the room, Richie saw, at Andrew. He looked back at Richie and Richie quickly turned his eyes back to Stan.

"Uh, nothing," Richie said, "He just wanted my notes from class because you know, I'm a super genius," He grinned at Stan, knowing this would annoy him.

Stan just rolled his eyes and didn't ask any more questions.

—-

Richie climbed out his window at 9:30 pm. He had lied to Bill and Stan when they had proposed that they all gather and watch movies at Bev's aunt's place, he'd told them he had lots of homework to catch up on. The lie weighed like a stone in his stomach, he hated lying to the losers, and thinking of them all huddled around watching some stupid horror movie made him want to reconsider and show up anyway, telling them he'd breezed through his work. He didn't, instead he showed up at Andrew's friend's house, and he knocked on the door, much more nervous than he could have anticipated.

The guy who answered was definentaly stoned, and the smell of weed poured out of the open door, and Richie wondered if they'd share with him.

The guy just stared at Richie, and Richie stared back.

"Uh?" Richie finally said, "Can I come in?"

The guy looked like he was going to say something, but then Andrew was behind him and he was smiling at Richie and Richie smiled back a little.

"Come in!" Andrew said, and the other guy stepped aside to let Richie in. He was definitely drunk, he was swaying a little on his feet, and wouldn't stop smiling.

Richie very quickly decided to get drunk too, Andrew offered him a drink, and Richie took it, he wasn't sure what it was, but it burned all the way down his throat, much stronger than beer, which was the only alcohol he'd tried. He downed it quickly and Andrew poured him another.

"Damn," Andrew said, laughing. "Pace yourself, you're gonna be sick."

"I can handle it," Richie said, "I'm like the worlds skinniest heavyweight drinker."

Andrew eyed him doubtfully, before letting out a sharp laugh. "Alright,"

Richie looked around, there weren't that many people there, a few people on the couch, some smoking in the corner. Richie stiffened a little at the sight of a member of Henry's gang, talking to some girl in between puffs of his cigarette.

Andrew followed his eyes. "Right, he's kind of an asshole. Friend of a friend. Uh, do you wanna go upstairs?"

Richie nodded, feeling even more uncomfortable.

Upstairs meant one of two things. This was the culmination of Andrew's big prank, he was going to get Richie up there, make him think he wanted to kiss him then call him a fag and call up Henry Bowers to beat him to a pulp. Or he was going to kiss Richie. Richie took another swig of his drink.

Richie didn't know who's room they ended up in, he kept drinking, and he started to feel more airy, and the possibility that this wasn't a joke was becoming much more real in Richie's mind. He was glad that the alcohol was muddling his brain and making this not seem as bad as it was, or he might have puked right there on the carpet.

Andrew closed the door and sat on the bed, Richie sat next to him, still nursing his drink.

"Uh, are you?-" Andrew started, tripping over his words. "Are you like, gay?" His voice lowered to practically a whisper at the last word, even though they were alone and the music downstairs was far too loud for any eavesdroppers. "I mean, I've heard what people say."

Richie opened his mouth, then closed it. He knew what people said, what Henry Bowers specifically said.

"No, no, no," He felt the words slip out of his mouth, and he knew he was going to say something stupid, because he was the trashmouth, that's what he did. "Eddie's mom can attest to that."

It was probably the stupidest thing he could have possibly said, and saying Eddie's name, now, in this situation made his chest twist painfully. He felt nervous laughter bubble up in his stomach, and suddenly he was giggling.

Andrew was looking at him like he was crazy. Richie thought that was fair.

"Who's?-"

"Stupid joke," Richie cut him off, still giggling (maybe he was a lightweight after all). "Yeah, I am. I mean-I don't know. I just want to...I don't know?"

"Do you want to...kiss me?" Andrew asked.

Richie only nodded.

Their faces were only inches apart, and Richie could smell the alcohol on Andrew's breath.

And then Andrew closed the distance, and they were kissing. Andrew had clearly done this before, he was good at it. Richie wasn't sure what to do with his hands, so he let them rest on the bed, on either side of the other boy. Andrew ran his hand gently through Richie's hair. His other hand guided Richie's to his waist.

Richie liked this, and he realized that there was a part of him that had hoped that he'd hate it. Like he could prove to himself with this that he actually was straight and he'd just been overthinking it all this whole time. That part of him died.

Richie like it, but some stupid part of him couldn't picture Andrew behind his closed eyes. All he could think about was Eddie, and how Eddie's lips would feel under his. He tried to push the thought away, because he would never kiss Eddie, and Andrew was cool, but it just kept coming back. Eddie's laugh, Eddie's smile, Eddie's legs draped over him in the hammock. He tried not to think at all.

It was also a bit awkward, because Andrew was good at it, but Richie had never done anything like this before. He tried to bring his other hand up to Andrew's neck, but he ended up sort of smacking him in the chin.

Andrew pulled back to laugh, but not a mean laugh, just an amused one.

Richie felt his cheeks heat. "I've uh, never done that before."

"Yeah, I know," Andrew said, leaning back into the kiss.

Richie heard the door open behind him, and Andrew pulled back so fast that Richie didn't quite have time to process what was happening.

"What the fuck is happening in here?" Richie's blood went cold, his spine stiffened. He leaned off the bed, turning quickly to see Henry Bowers standing in the doorway, there was a girl behind him, a drink in her hand. He glanced at Andrew, then back at Richie. "I always knew Tozier was a cocksucker, but Andrew? That's fucking disgusting man."

Andrew was white as a sheet, "I'm not-"

"Shut the fuck up," Henry took a step forward, "We caught you with your hand down his pants."

"We weren't-" Richie started, he wanted to call him an asshole, or a piece of shit, but he knew the situation he was in. They were alone with Henry Bowers, on the second floor. "That's not what we were doing."

Bowers punched him, his fist connected with Richie's face and pain blossomed from his eye, blood poured from his nose and he prayed that it wasn't broken. Richie stumbled backwards, holding his nose.

"Fuck you!" He said, and he punched back.

Henry Bowers was bigger than him, but he got in one good punch, and Henry backed away from the door and Richie ran. He didn't have time to worry about Andrew, and he didn't really have to because Bowers seemed interested only in Richie, who was shoving his way through the crowd to get to the door. He threw it open, and burst into the cool night air. He stumbled down the steps, Bowers still following him. He'd only made it a block before he glanced back to see that Bowers was far behind him, apparently having given up on his quest to kill Richie. Richie kept running until he couldn't see him or the house anymore.

When he stopped for breath, his head was still spinning and he felt nausea build in his throat. He couldn't think straight, the alcohol was still muddling his brain. He didn't want to go home, he didn't want to talk to his parents, and they probably wouldn't notice if Richie didn't come home tonight anyway, so he went to the only other place he could think of.

Bev answered the door, and Richie could see the others behind her, all huddled together on the couch just like he'd imagined it.

"Richie?" Bev asked, her eyes widening at the sight of his bloodied nose and swollen eye. "What happened to you?"

"I uh, had a run in with Bowers on the way over," He said, he was trying very hard not to sound drunk, but he had no idea how successful he was.

"Jesus Christ!" Eddie said, the others were all gathered around the door now, looking at Richie with wide eyes. He could still hear the movie playing in the background, without a doubt something scary.

"Are you gonna invite me in?" He asked, "Or are we all just gonna stand around and stare at each other all day?"

They all moved back and Richie stepped inside, collapsing onto the couch.

"I th-th-thought you weren't c-c-coming over?" Bill questioned.

Eddie kneeled in front of Richie on the floor and tried to get a better look at his wounds, Richie looked to the ceiling, trying very hard not to think about how less than an hour ago he was kissing a guy and imagining Eddie while he did it.

"Uh, got bored of my work," Richie said, slurring the words a little. "These thingsr' always a rager. Thought I'd pop over."

"Are you drunk?" Stan asked, squinting at him. "Did you blow us off and lie to us to go to a party?"

Richie didn't say anything at first, just glanced at Stan apologetically. He couldn't think straight, not when Eddie was still prodding at his face and the alcohol was still clouding his thoughts. "If it makes you feel any better, Stan the Man, it wasn't nearly as fun as hanging with you guys."

"Clearly," Ben said, with a sympathetic look at his face.

"W-w-why'd you lie to us, R-Richie?" Bill asked, he didn't look as mad as Stan, but he didn't look as understanding as Ben. Eddie was still in front of him, but he was no longer touching Richie's face.

"I-" He considered telling them 'because I'm gay and I went there to make out with the first guy who has ever showed an interest in me' because it was going to come out anyway, on Monday, when Henry Bowers told anyone who would listen that Richie Tozier was a dirty queer (he'd always told everyone that anyway, but now he had proof!). He really considered telling them, but as he glanced at Eddie still in front of him the words got caught in his throat. More than that, his stomach twisted at the thought of any of his friends knowing his secret, and he rushed to the bathroom before he could puke all over Bev's living room.

"Are you okay?" He heard Eddie call, "You could have alcohol poisoning, or-"

"He doesn't have alcohol poisoning," Stan said, the annoyance clear in his voice. "He's just feeling guilty for being such an asshole."

"Glad to hear you care, Stanley," Richie called back, before puking into the toilet again.

He heard Stan snort.

Once Richie was sure that he'd sufficiently emptied his stomach, he returned to the couch, and Bev offered him a glass of water. He gladly took it, his head feeling marginally better.

"Mm sorry," Was all Richie said, he couldn't explain to them why he did what he did, the thought made him sick, but he hoped they knew his apology was sincere.

The group responded with varying levels of acceptance.

"It's fine, Richie," Bev said, and he couldn't see her, because his eyes were heavy, and he'd closed them against the bright lights. "We'll clean you up now, and then make you feel bad for being an asshole tomorrow."

Richie mumbled his agreement.

He felt something wet against his cheek, and opened his eyes to see Eddie wiping away the blood from his face.

"You're so nice to me, Eds," He said, and he wanted to communicate something but in his state he wasn't sure how or even what it was he was trying to say. "I don't deserve it, you're too nice."

"You're right," Eddie teased, Richie wasn't sure where the other losers were, he thought maybe Mike was sitting beside him, but he kept his eyes on Eddie. "You don't, you're a total asshole," There was only a little bite to Eddie's words, undercut by his small smile.

"No seriously," Richie said, because Eddie didn't get it. "I'm-I'm wrong. I don't deserve it."

Eddie's brows furrowed, he continued to wipe at Richie face, "What-?"

Richie cut him off with a hiss of pain when Eddie wiped his nose, "Is it broken, Dr. K?"

Eddie dropped his question, "No it's not broken Rich, you're gonna be fine."

He disinfected Richie's wounds and left him to fall asleep on the couch. The other losers decided to stay over too, and Eddie slept in a bundle of blankets on the floor next to the couch while Mike took the loveseat. Richie's not sure where the others ended up.

—-

They were all still asleep when Richie woke up, his head was pounding, and he felt like there was a good chance that he'd puke again. He stepped carefully over Eddie, still asleep on the floor, and walked quietly to the bathroom. He splashed his face with water and rinsed his mouth.

His plan was to leave, he didn't want to face the losers, not knowing that tomorrow they'd know everything. About what he did, what he was.

He carefully opened the front door, quietly. He was immediately greeted with the sight of Bev, leaning against the side of the house, a cigarette between her fingers.

She eyed him, taking another drag of her cigarette. "Leaving?"

He coughed awkwardly, looking down at his shoes. "Would you believe me if I said I was looking for you?"

She shrugged, reaching into her jacket pocket to grab another cigarette, she offered it to him. And he was going to leave, he really was, but Bev had a way of grounding him sometimes, so he took the cigarette and pulled a lighter from his pocket.

"You wanna talk about it?" Bev asked, releasing a smoky breath.

"Not particularly," Richie said, taking a drag.

Bev nodded.

—-

Richie considered faking sick on Monday. At breakfast, his mom asked him if everything was okay. He knew he looked too pale, and exhausted, and probably pretty sick. She he could get away with it, she'd let him stay home if he said something.

"I'm perfect, mommy dearest," He said, he barely touched his food.

The world didn't implode when he got to school, but people stared, and people whispered, and when he saw Andrew across the hall, the other boy looked quickly away, keeping his head down.

Eddie wasn't in any of their shared classes. Richie kept glancing nervously at his empty desk. He had trouble focusing on anything the teacher said, because everyone was looking at him, and because Eddie wasn't there to look at him.

He's avoiding me Richie thought, drumming anxiously at his desk. The person in front of him turned to glare.

He shared his next class with Bev and Stan, who both gave him worried looks. He knew they'd heard what people were saying, so he avoided their eyes.

Richie was the last to arrive at lunch, and the only seat empty was Eddie's. Richie kept his eyes on it as he approached.

Eddie's sick. Eddie wouldn't avoid me because of this. Eddie wouldn't do that. He repeated it in his head, but the more he did, the less be believed it.

They all stared at him when he finally sat down at the table.

"Richie," Bev started, her eyes soft.

"Why is everyone staring at me like I have two heads?" He asks, as if he didn't know exactly why everyone was staring at him.

"We heard what happened at that party," Ben said, "Or at least, what Bowers says happened."

Richie poked at his food, silent.

"Is it true?" Bev asked.

"Depends on what he said happened."

"He said that you-"

"I kissed a guy," Richie cut her off, because he didn't want to hear what Bowers was saying, he knew it would be a stupid, demeaning exaggeration of the truth. "At that party. It's true, I'm a-I'm-" He felt physically incapable of saying the word, it got stuck in his throat. He felt tears build in eyes, threatening to spill over.

Stan was sitting the closest, and he leaned in to give Richie an awkward side hug. He looked to the others, and they all give him the same sympathetic look.

"We d-don't c-care," Bill said, smiling. And Richie felt the tension that had been building since that night (and probably longer) release.

Mike wasn't there, because he didn't go to school with them, but he thought he'd be okay with it like the rest of them. The glaring absence was Eddie, and Richie couldn't stop glancing at his seat.

"Where's Eddie?" He asked, glancing at the others, he hoped his concerns weren't obvious.

"We don't know," Bev responded, her tone soft. "He's probably just sick."

"Or maybe he just sneezed," Ben said, "You know how his mom is. She'd keep him home the whole week."

Richie nodded, pushing his food away.

Richie stood in front of Eddie's door after school, his hands shaking slightly. He didn't know what his plan was, to come out to Eddie before he went back to school and found out for himself? Or just to soothe Richie's fears, to prove that Eddie really was sick? All he knew was that he had to do something, he felt like he's going to go crazy otherwise. He couldn't focus on a word anyone had said all day. His head conjuring images of Eddie, disgusted, glaring at him, spitting at him. He didn't actually think Eddie would do any of that, if he was thinking rationally, but he was hardly thinking rationally.

He knocked lightly on the door, his stomach in his throat.

Mrs. K answered, glaring at him like he'd kicked her puppy.

"Hey Mrs. K," He said, trying to ignore the way she huffed at the nickname. "Is Eddie here? He wasn't at school today, we were wondering if he was sick."

"Oh, he's fine," She said, her voice venom. "He just doesn't want to see you. I heard what you are, what you did. He doesn't want to see you ever again. So stay away from my boy."

Richie felt like he'd been slapped, he took a step back, blinking at her. She slammed the door in his face without another word.

All Richie could think was that Eddie wouldn't say that, wouldn't believe that. He stood in a daze on the porch for a moment before he picked up his bike and wiped his hand messily over his eyes.

He biked to Bev's house, because he knew she would be there, and he knew she would say the right thing.

He knocked on her door, his hands were still shaking and his eyes were still wet, which was a little embarrassing, but he knew Bev wouldn't acknowledge it.

Bev answered the door, "Richie?" She asked, ushering him inside. "Are you okay?"

He tried to stop crying, and managed calmed himself down a little. He told Bev what had happened, staring down at his hands. He thought she might say something like: 'well you have to understand Richie, he has a right to feel that way. You pretended to be his friend, you got close to him.'

She just said, "I don't believe it," Shaking her head vigorously. "She made that up, you know how she is. Eddie wouldn't say that, he's not going to care."

Richie buried his face in his hands, "But you know how he can be," He said, "I don't know Bev."

"He loves you," She said, and Richie felt something loosen in his chest. Like she knew. "Just like the rest of us."

Richie stayed silent.

—-

When Eddie got home from Bev's the morning after their movie night his mom was sitting in the kitchen, she looked like she'd been there awhile, anxiously awaiting Eddie's return. Eddie groaned internally at the sight, his mom being anxious had never meant anything good. It usually meant that she'd read about some dangerous disease making its way to Maine, or heard from her friends about some drug every teenager in town was doing. It usually also meant he would be stuck hearing about it and promising that he would be careful and stay away from 'the wrong people' despite knowing he only had his six friends.

"Eddie-bear!" She said, her eyes widening at the sight of him. "Where have you been?"

"I told you mom," He signed, his mother had become marginally better at respecting his boundaries since he'd thrown out all his pills and claimed bullshit on them, but only marginally. "I was staying the night at Bill's."

"Was Richie Tozier there?" She spat the name like he'd personally offended her (he probably had, knowing Richie). "I know you hang around with him."

"Yes, Richie was there, he's my friend, Mom," Eddie knew his mom didn't particularly like Richie, but she'd also usually kept her mouth shut about it.

"I don't want you to hang around him anymore," She said, standing up from her seat at the table and making a grab at his face.

Eddie took a step back, avoiding her grabby hands. "Mom, we've talked about this, my friends-"

"That boys not right," She cut him off, shaking her head, "I've heard things about him Eddie, he's…queer," She lowered her voice on the last word, as if she might catch something just from saying it.

Eddie scrunched his face up angrily, he didn't let his mom talk about his friends like this anymore. And he'd heard the things about Richie, but they were just stupid rumors spread by Henry Bowers and Greta Keene, they'd said the same things about Eddie too. "That's not true, mom. Just stupid rumors."

"No, Eddie," she shook her head vigorously. "He was caught, with another boy," she lowered her voice again, like someone might hear, "at one of those parties where they do drugs and it's just horrible Eddie. Promise me you won't see him again. Eddie please, boys like that they try to pervert good boys like you."

She continued on, pleading with him to please stay away from him, but Eddie could barely hear him. All he could think about was Richie with a boy, and he knew who it was, Andrew. He remembered watching him smile like that at Richie, he remembered the way it had twisted his stomach. And Richie after that party, stumbling to Bev's house, his face bloody and bruised. He tried to push away the image of Andrew and Richie together, he tried very hard to think about literally anything else. But images kept coming to him, Richie's face as he leaned in, Richie's hand on the other boys face. And suddenly it wasn't Andrew or some nameless boy, it was Eddie. And Richie was kissing him. Eddie felt bile rise in his throat, and he felt intensely like he was going to throw up.

"Eddie are you listening to me?" She must have noticed his change of attitude. She looked at him like she always did right before she rushed him to the hospital or shoved three different kinds of pills down his throat. "I know this must be hard for you, you were close. But Eddie this is what they do, so promise me you'll stay away from him."

Eddie nodded numbly, he didn't know what to say, and he still felt nauseous. He just needed to get away from his mother and think.

"I'm just gonna go up to my room, okay mom?"

He didn't catch her response before he moved past her and up the stairs.

It was worse up there. All alone, all he could think about was kissing Richie. Richie kissing him, running his hands through Richie's curls. He felt sick thinking about it, but he also felt like this wasn't the first time he'd thought about it. Like it was there, underneath everything else. This only made him feel more sick. The worst part was that he really wanted to call Richie, to make sure he was okay, and because Richie could always make him laugh (or at least piss him off enough that he forgot why he was feeling so shitty).

His mom's voice rang in his head, -perverted boys who kiss other boys. It's not right Eddie, they'll all die of disease and then they burn in hell. It's not how we were meant to be. He jumped off his bed and only made it halfway to the toilet before he threw up all over the bathroom floor.

His mom rushed up immediately, and he knew she must have been lurking nearby. Probably waiting for opportunity to fuss over him. "Oh Eddie," She shook her head, tutting, "I really think you should never have stopped taking your medication. Your immune system is just-"

"I'm fine, I think I just ate something bad," He just wanted to go back to last night when he was wiping the blood from Richie's face and Richie was drunk and looking at him with something in his eyes, something that made Eddie feel warm. And it didn't mean anything, because it was just Richie.

"Can I just stay home on Monday?" Eddie asked, he knew she'd say yes.

"Of course Eddie-bear," She said, grabbed at his face. "I just want you to get better," and he could swear this was the happiest she'd been since he broke his arm.

He spent the rest of the day feeling worse and worse, the thought of facing Richie again made him nearly throw up again. And all the soup his mom tried to push on him only made him feel worse, every second spent with her only made it worse. Because when she wasn't there, he couldn't stop thinking about Richie, and then his mom would come to check on him and he'd see her face and think about what she would say if she knew what he was thinking.

She wanted to take him to the doctor on Monday morning. He only rolled over in bed and told her that he was fine. He expected her to put up a fight, but she just shook her head and gave him more pills (which he promptly shoved under his bed).

He was sitting in the kitchen, his head pounding out of his skull when someone knocked at the door. Normally Eddie would get it, because it's mostly his friends that come around the house. But today he let his mom get it, because it probably was his friends, and the last thing he wanted to do was talk to them today.

He sat up in his seat, immediately alert, when he heard Richie's voice at the door. "Hey Mrs. K," Eddie imagined his stupid grin, maybe a wink (he always was a shithead around Eddie's mom). "Is Eddie here? He wasn't at school today, we were wondering if he was sick."

Eddie heart clenched at the concern in his voice. He wanted to run to the door, say something like 'sick of your face, asshole' and go to Richie's house and read comics with their sides pressed together while Eddie pretended that the contact didn't send his head spinning. He didn't though, he just listened while his mom spat horrible things at Richie, and he did nothing. He felt tears in his eyes, he wanted to tell his mom to leave Richie alone. He wanted a lot of things, things he knew he could never, ever, have. His mother's voice in his head told him that this was the right thing.

As long as you don't give in to these bad thoughts you're better than them, Eddie. As long as you don't act on them like your dirty friend Richie, as long as you stay away from him. She crooned at him, he buried his face in his hands and really just wished she would shut up.

When his mom slammed the door in Richie's face, he pulled his inhaler from his pocket and let the chemicals do their work on his lungs. His mom reentered the kitchen a moment later, her face angry and red. He quickly wiped his eyes on the back of his hand.

"Oh Eddie," She tutted, "I know it's hard, if he bothers you again you tell me."

She wrapped her arms around him, and he returned the hug. His tears tracking their way down his face. He didn't want to feel comforted, he'd tried to make himself hate his mother, for all the fake pills and over protective coddling, but when she wrapped her arms around him, he still felt like he was five years old again and everything was okay. He was safe.

—-

Eddie was there at school the next day. Richie smiled at him across the hall, the way he always did, usually Eddie would grin back, or give him an exaggerated eye roll. Today he just ducked his head and turned to walk in the other direction.

Richie felt his stomach drop, but he rushed forward to catch up to Eddie anyways.

"Eds?" He asked, he wanted to grab his shoulder and stop him from leaving, but he didn't know how Eddie would react to that.

Eddie stopped, turning to look at Richie. He wouldn't meet his eye, he looked like he's looking anywhere but Richie's eyes. "Hey, Richie."

"Are you ignoring me?" Richie asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. "I talked to your mom, is she-is what she said true?"

Eddie looked down at his feet, "Rich, I'm not trying to be a jerk, it's just-"

Richie knew what he was going to say: It's just, it's gross to be around you, now that I know. Or: It's just, we can't be friends any more, but I feel bad for you. Or: It's just, it's obvious you have a crush on me and all your flirting and touching is too much and I can't stand to hang out with you anymore.

Richie didn't let him say any of those things, "It's just, I'm a disgusting fairy, I get it," He didn't let Eddie get in another word, he just turned and all but ran away, trying his hardest not to look bothered.

Eddie called after him, but Richie didn't stop.

Everyone, including Eddie, was already there at the table at lunch by the time Richie got there. Richie picked the seat opposite Eddie and very specifically didn't look at him.

Eddie was up in seconds, "I uh-gotta go work on a project, before lunch is over," He took his unopened paper bag and dumped it in the trash before hurrying out the door.

Everyone turned to look at Richie.

"What was that about?" Stan asked, Richie knows he's speaking for all of them.

Richie felt anger and shame burn deep in his stomach. "You know, he doesn't want to be friends with a queer like me," He'd never really thought Eddie would react this way, for all his worst nightmares, he never actually believed it.

"Did he say that?" Bev asked, her eyes dart to the door then back to Richie.

At the same time that Stan said, "Richie."

"His mom said it," Richie said, rubbing at his eyes. "And he didn't disagree."

"I'm gonna go talk to him," Bev said, standing, her mouth twisting into a scowl.

Stan looked ready to follow her.

"Don't," Richie pleaded, a hand on her arm, a glance at Stan. "Just please, don't."

They stayed where they were, and Bill and Ben tried to ease the tension a bit by changing the subject. Richie buried his head in his arms and didn't talk until lunch was over.

—-

Eddie continued to ignore Richie, and Richie continued to pretend like he didn't care. Eddie didn't show up later that day when the losers went to the clubhouse to hang out, and Richie sat in the hammock alone, feeling the other boys absence like an ache in his chest. He stayed quiet, and the others tried to bring him out of it, but he couldn't bring himself to stop thinking about Eddie.

The next day at school Richie didn't go to lunch with the others, instead he took his food outside and sat against the building with a cigarette.

He heard Bev before he saw her, she slid her back down the building to sit next to him. She immediately held out her hand, and Richie passed her a cigarette, she let it dangle between her lips as Richie lit it.

"You should come inside," She said, taking a deep breath and looking at him with sad eyes. He was kind of tired of sad eyes.

"Is he in there?"

She nodded.

"If I go in there, he leaves," Richie said, flicking the ash off the end of his cigarette. "And he'll probably go hang out in the bathroom for the rest of lunch."

"So? He should," She said, "He's the one that's making this a problem."

"I know," Richie said, and he did know, but he also couldn't stand the thought of Eddie losing his friends because he didn't want to be around Richie. "But I'm the one that-" He cut himself off, he still couldn't talk about it, it still got caught in his throat. Like he'll get killed just for suggesting it, just for thinking it.

"It's not your fault," Bev insisted, like she always would. But she didn't know.

Richie shrugged.

Bev stared at him.

Someone else joined them, and Richie knew it was Stan before he looked up. He didn't want to say that there were sides to this thing, because he knew Ben and Bill weren't against him, but if there were sides Bev and Stan had decidedly chosen his. His stomach twisted thinking about how he'd divided his friends. A voice echoed in his head, this is what happens when you touch other boys Richie, you fuck up your life and everything around you. Richie pushed it away, he tried not to think like that.

"I told Eddie he's being an asshole," Stan said as he came to sit on Richie's other side. He wrinkled his nose at their cigarettes but didn't say anything, Richie appreciated it.

"Stanny! My knight in shining armor!" Richie clutched at his chest, batting his eyes dramatically and making his voice high and feminine. He put his hands on Stan's face, grinning.

Richie dropped his smile suddenly, pulling his hands away from Stan's face. Surely Stan wouldn't want him making those jokes anymore, wouldn't want him touching him anymore, now that he knew how Richie was. "Sorry," Richie said, quietly. He stubbed his cigarette out on the pavement between his legs.

Stan frowned at him, glancing over Richie's shoulder at Bev in what Richie was sure was some kind of aww-look-at-this-poor-queer look.

Suddenly Stan pulled Richie in for a hug, tight and reassuring. His curls tickled Richie's neck and Richie felt strongly like he might cry.

Stan pulled back, "You don't have anything to be sorry for, Richie."

Richie felt pressed to change the subject, "Uh, what did Eddie say?" Richie asked Stan, Bev leaned her head onto the Richie's shoulder, and Richie was so glad to have them. He wanted to tell them that, but he knew he wouldn't be able to find the words, not without making some kind of stupid joke and ruining the moment.

"He didn't say anything," Stan shrugged, bumping his shoulder against Richie's. "He just kind of looked that me with those stupid puppy dog eyes and when he opened his mouth I left."

Richie leaned his head back against the wall. He missed Eddie like a physical ache, he missed listening to him rant about how unsanitary 'this or that' was, he missed watching his angry face loosen and quirk into a reluctant smile at something Richie said, and he missed his stupid fucking puppy dog eyes.

Two days later, Stan met him at his locker to inform him that they were all gathering at the quarry after school.

"Everyone?" Richie asked, raising his eyebrows and making it very clear who specifically he was asking about.

Stan nodded, "Come on Richie, we all miss you, you haven't even seen Mike since this all started."

Richie shut his locker loudly and avoided Stan's eyes. It was true, he hadn't seen Mike, because Richie had managed to get out of every loser hangout since the party.

"Sorry Stanley the Manley, I'm gonna have to take a rain check on this one," Richie said, pulling his backpack up on his shoulder and turning away from Stan.

He knew behind him Stan would probably be crossing his arms, pulling his 'I'm so done with this' face, and huffing. Richie didn't turn back to look.

Richie had long since decided that this was his fault. He was the one that had made it weird, he was the one with the gross crush on Eddie, so when Bev and Stan weren't buzzing around and trying to make him feel better, he was usually up his room smoking shitty weed and trying not to think about Eddie.

But today he missed his friends, not Bev and Stan, they'd never left, but Bill and Ben and Mike (and Eddie, but Richie knew there was nothing he could do about that). And he was in his room, more than a little high.

Fuck it, he thought, throwing open his bedroom door and stomping down the stairs. If Eddie didn't want anything to do with him, that could be his problem. He pulled his bike from the garage, and after a few near crashes, made his way to the quarry.

Bev grinned at his arrival, rushing to meet him at the edge of the water, her curls dripping. She pulled him into a hug, which managed to get his t-shirt soaking wet (he didn't care). "Richie! You made it," she pulled back, narrowing her eyes and looking him up and down. Richie stepped back, knowing she must have smelled the weed on him. She didn't say anything, only pulled him back to the edge of the water.

He caught Stan's eye too, a small smile on his face.

Eddie was staring at him. Richie caught his eye, and, feeling high and stupid and maybe a little angry, he winked at him. Eddie quickly looked away, his cheeks red.

Mike was sitting on the rocks, he grinned when he saw Richie. And motioned for him to come with him. Richie sat down, a comfortable distance, if Mike could smell the weed he didn't say anything.

"Where have you been?" Mike asked, frowning at him. "I haven't seen you since you came to Bev's with your face all busted up."

Richie realized suddenly that Mike might not know Richie's secret, he wouldn't unless the others had told him. Richie didn't think they'd do that, not even Eddie.

Part of Richie didn't want to tell Mike, he wanted to keep it a secret, let one of his friends look at him the same. But Richie knew he must have known something was up, from the way Richie had obviously been avoiding their hangouts to the way Eddie was obviously avoiding Richie now. He didn't want Mike to think he was being left out of some kind of secret everyone else was in on.

"Uh, about that," Richie started, and the weed was probably making him feel braver. Because he'd never actually done this, told someone who didn't already know. But he didn't feel scared, maybe it was just because it was Mike, he trusted Mike. "That night, at the-uh-party. I kissed a-I kissed a guy."

Mike's eyebrows went up. "Oh."

Richie didn't wait for him to say anything else. "And bowers sort of caught me. So now our whole school knows, they all know," he motioned to the rest of their friends. "I guess I just thought maybe you should know."

"Oh," Mike said again, his mouth twisted. "I'm sorry Richie, that's really fucked up that that happened. Fuck Bowers."

"Uh, thanks," Richie said, feeling a bundle of emotions in his chest. This whole coming out thing was making him much more of a baby than he'd ever been before, he'd wanted to cry more times since this started than he ever had in his life. "Thanks Mikey."

"So are you and Eddie like...together?" He looked over at Eddie, who was not to subtly looked over at them.

Richie laughed, loud and harsh. Mike squinted at him. Richie bit his tongue, laughter bubbling in the back of his throat. It wasn't funny, not really, just kind of absurd. "Sorry Mikey, no. We aren't, no, but you should go ask him that. He would love that."

"Oh, sorry. I just...you guys are just, close, and I saw you wink at him," He shrugged.

Richie decided to ignore the 'close' part, his stomach twisting. That's why Eddie hated him, because they'd been so close. "I was just being an asshole," Richie shrugged. "He's been avoiding me, he's grossed out, or weirded out."

Mike frowned, glancing back over at Eddie, "Well I'm glad you told me, and I don't think it's weird."

Richie smiled, he loved his friends very much.

Mike went back into the water, and Richie realized dumbly that he hadn't brought swim trunks or anything, and he wasn't particularly keen on going around in his underwear like he was thirteen again. So he sat on the shore, and he watched everyone, and he made sure to keep his eyes as far away from Eddie as possible. From what glances he did catch, Eddie looked on edge. He kept glancing at Richie and then back to the water when Richie caught his eye.

Richie buried his head his folded arms. Did Eddie really hate him that much, was he so worried that Richie might be perving on him that he couldn't stop thinking about it? He should leave, let Eddie be in peace. He'd seen Mike, he'd told him about his thing, he could leave.

Richie heard someone come up out of the water, and Richie thought it would be Stan or Bev or even Mike to be there to tell him to stop sulking and come in the water. He lifted his head from his arms to tell them to fuck off, only to find Eddie himself.

Eddie was rummaging through his clothes, he grasped at the pockets of his jeans until he came up with something small and silver. His inhaler, he took one quick puff. He glanced at Richie, who expected him to immediately head back into the water to avoid being alone with Richie, or maybe just leave altogether, instead he just sat down on the rocks, nearly ten feet away, but it was something.

"Jesus Christ, Eds," Richie said, pulling his knees up to his chest. "You don't have to get a fucking asthma attack about it. I can leave."

Richie wanted him to come back with some kind of hit, like he always would. Richie would say something stupid and Eddie would hit back with something mean. But neither of them meant it, it was just the way they talked. Instead he just said, "Please don't call me that," And it was different from every other time he'd said it, it wasn't teasingly, it wasn't lighthearted, it was just 'fuck you'.

"Right," Richie said, standing up and trying not to look like he'd just been punched in the gut. He wanted to leave before Stan or Bev saw and tried to stop him, or follow him.

"You don't have to leave," Eddie said behind him, and Richie felt a flutter of hope in his chest, a big glaring 'maybe he doesn't hate me after all'. It was crushed when Eddie continued, "I can go, they all pretty much hate me anyway."

Richie sighed, turning around and cupping his hands around his mouth, "Hey dipshits, don't hate Eddie, he didn't do anything wrong," They all turned to look at him, their faces varying degrees of confused. So much for leaving quietly. He turned back around and walked as fast as he could without actually running.

Eddie left almost immediately after Richie. He said a quick goodbye to the others, to which he got a lukewarm response, and picked up his bike and left.

Seeing Richie at the quarry had been worse than seeing him at school. All he'd wanted to do was grab him and pull him into the water and tell him how much of an idiot he was for dressing like that to come swimming. Instead he'd just kept his distance, and tried his best to keep his staring to a minimum.

Richie thought he hated him, of course he did. He was acting like he hated him. Eddie wished he could tell him that it was Eddie's problem, not Richie's. That he was happy that Richie could do that, could kiss boys and be honest and fucking brave. But that it made him feel things, and Eddie wasn't like that, he couldn't be. So the only option was to stay away from Richie and not let himself feel those things. He couldn't tell Richie those things though, because that would require admitting far too much about himself. Things he never intended to think too long about or say out loud to anyone.

He went home and he told his mom that no, Richie hadn't been there, and he went up to his room and wondered if there was a medicine to fix this.

Richie remembered stupidly the kissing bridge, and fucking R + E. And he felt so stupid about it that he absolutely irrationally had to get rid of it. When he'd carved it he'd been thirteen and stupid and thinking that maybe if only Eddie knew about him that there was a chance. Now he was sixteen and he'd been slapped in the face by reality and Eddie knew and he hated him more than ever.

So he walked sullenly to the kissing bridge with his pocket knife and he sat and stared at the letters for so long that he felt like he was going crazy. He held the knife in his shaking hands, this was stupid, he felt like a teenage girl going through a breakup. Like he'd carved this here when they were happy and in love and now that they'd broken up he was coming back to angrily scratch out their names and melodramatically cry about it.

But not like that a voice in his head said. You never even had that, you were just being stupid and creepy when you did this. And now you can scratch it out and maybe finally act fucking normal.

He made one angry scratch across the letters.

"What are you doing out here, queer?" Richie jumped at the voice behind him, he knew before he looked who it was. He quickly turned around, trying subtly to hide the letters he'd been scratching out. He stood face to face with Bowers and his gang of idiots. "Are you waiting to meet one of your faggot friends so you can jerk each other off?"

"Is that what you guys came out here for? Because I'll gladly get out of your way and let you get to it." Richie said, he felt a little brave with a knife in his hand.

"You think that's gonna protect you Tozier?" Bowers asked angrily, glancing at the pocket knife. He reached into his pocket to pull out a shiny switchblade. "Mine's bigger."

Richie's heart jumped at the sight of the blade, he took a step back and his heels hit the edge of the bridge.

Bowers motioned to the others with his head and like they were fucking minions from a movie they moved to grab Richie. He struggled to get away, but they were bigger than him, and they outnumbered him. They ripped the knife from him and threw it over the edge of the bridge, Richie watched helplessly as it clattered and fell from his view.

While the others held him Bowers bent down to look at the spot he'd been carving. He let out a sharp, cruel laugh. "Is this what you were doing? R + E?" He stood back up and turned back to Richie. "Is E your little friend girly boy? Eddie?"

Richie breathed in sharply. The last thing he wanted was for them to go after Eddie for this. But he had nothing to say.

Bowers punched him in the stomach, and Richie bent over from the pain of it. Or tried to bend over, the guys holding his arms prevented him from actually doing it.

"What's the matter Tozier?" Bowers asked, "Can't speak? Never thought I'd see the day," He paused, flipping out the blade of his knife. "We don't want people like you in our town, especially not putting your shit on our bridge."

He brought the knife very close to Richie's face, making a quick slash above his eyebrow. Pain flared in Richie's forehead, and he felt warm blood trickle over his eye. His vision literally going red.

Bowers grinned suddenly, in a way that gave Richie goosebumps. "You want to carve letters queer?" He asked, grabbing Richie's arm. "Fine, but you should wear it loud and proud!"

He brought the knife to Richie's arm and carved a line. Richie groaned in pain. They only laughed.

R.

He thought of Ben, they'd done this to Ben, in this same spot. Richie almost laughed, they could fucking bond over it.

He wasn't telling anyone about this, he'd just wear long sleeves for the rest of his fucking life.

E.

They'd patched Ben up behind the pharmacy. Richie didn't think there'd be anyone to patch him up.

When Bowers finished, flipping his knife back into itself, Richie's arm burned. He breathed through gritted teeth and resisted the urge to look at what they'd done to him.

They shoved Richie hard to the ground, and Bowers spat at him before retreating back the way they'd come. "Next time we catch you here we're going to throw you over the bridge."

Richie waited until he couldn't see them anymore to look tentatively to his arm. It was a bloody, disfigured, mess. But Richie could clearly make out the letters carved into his skin.

"Fuck," He swore quietly, taking off his button up shirt and wrapping it carefully around the wound. He winced as the fabric came in contact with the slashes. The blood soaked through his shirt before he even stood up. He wiped at his face, and his hand came away bloodly. "Fuck," he said again.

He remembered dimly that Eddie had stored a first aid kit at the clubhouse, because 'anything could happen, there are like a million health hazards down here and I want to be prepared for when someone steps on a rusty nail."

He wasn't far from there, so he decided that was the best course of action. Much better than going home, or to one of the losers houses. Both options would yield to many questions and too much sympathy.

He made it to the clubhouse quickly, and thought absently that he should talk the others into going there more.

He found the entrance with some difficulty, and he climbed carefully down the ladder, as carefully as he could while his arm still stung like hell. He immediately felt like shit when he saw that it was not empty.

Eddie had gone to the clubhouse to be alone, because his mother was suffocating him and the others didn't go there much anymore, and it reminded him a lot of Richie. And despite everything, he still caught himself thinking far too much about Richie, so sometimes he leaned into it, and he thought of Richie for hours. Like kind of a 'get it out of your system' kind of thing.

He was trying to read a comic, and he was on a page that he'd already been staring at for about ten minutes because his head kept drifting to the last time he'd been there. Richie had hogged the hammock, as he always did, and Eddie had stubbornly squeezed in beside him, and Stan had made some grumpy comment about how they were going to break the thing. But Eddie had ignored him because all he'd been thinking about was the way Richie was warm against his side, and the way Richie had tilted his head close to Eddie's to say something about whatever comic he'd been reading, and Richie's curls had brushed his neck and it had made Eddie feel warm.

He'd been thinking about him so hard that it was almost like he'd summoned him when Richie actually came climbing down the steps of the ladder.

Eddie put his feet to the ground, ready to make some excuse and leave as quickly as possible. Because he could not be alone with Richie, not down here, and not after he'd just been thinking about the way it felt when they had their sides pressed together.

He didn't leave though, because Richie turned around and Eddie saw with a gasp that he had blood running down the side of his face. "Oh my god, Rich, what happened?"

"Bowers," Richie muttered, and Eddie noticed that he was also holding his bundled up shirt to his arm. "Ran into him on the kissing bridge."

"Fuck him," Eddie said, his heart in his throat. He quickly turned around and reached behind the hammock for the first aid kid he'd stashed there. He sat on the ground near the hammock and motioned for Richie to do the same. "Come here, it looks deep and we need to clean it and disinfect it and wrap it otherwise you could get an infection. Who knows what Bowers has done with that knife."

Richie hadn't moved, and he was looking at him strangely. "Eddie, don't worry about it. I just came her for that," He gestured at the first aid kit, "You don't have to stay and you don't have to help me."

"Don't be ridiculous, Rich," Eddie shook his head. "Whatever's going on with us I'm not going to let you get an infection because you're being stubborn."

Richie laughed, humorlessly, harshly, "I'm being stubborn?"

Eddie huffed, he didn't want to talk about this. All he could think about was the blood running down Richie's face, and how it twisted his stomach in a way that nothing else did. "Richie, please."

Richie looked about to leave, with or without the first aid kit. And Eddie was ready to follow him and berate him until he let him take care of him. But Richie didn't leave, instead he came to sit in front of Eddie, resignedly.

Richie sat with his back against the wooden beam, and he didn't say anything as he sat, he just closed his eyes and rested his head against the wood.

He was gripping his arm, still covered with his shirt, tightly, so Eddie went to work on his face first. He pulled an antiseptic wipe from the kit and wiped Richie's face as gently as he could. Richie winced, but didn't say anything or open his eyes.

Being this close to Richie, Eddie felt like every inch between them was too much. He he'd barely spoken two words to Richie since the floodgates had been opened on his feelings for him. Now here he was, cleaning up his face for the second time in as many weeks and the urge to kiss Richie was stronger than ever. He felt like he was in a bubble, in this little clubhouse that his mom didn't even know about, like if he actually did kiss Richie down here no one would ever have to know.

But I would know, Eddie-bear, His mother's voice whispered to him. Because then you would be sick, and I'm your mother and I can always tell when you're sick.

He didn't kiss him, instead he just finished wiping the blood from his face and examined the cut, "This might scar," He told Richie, placing a bandage over the other boys eyebrow.

Richie didn't open his eyes, but the corners of his mouth quirked up. "That's alright, I heard chicks dig scars."

Eddie let out a surprised laugh, then immediately regretted it when Richie opened his eyes to look at him, and Eddie was suddenly so glad that he'd had them closed this whole time. It was a lot easier not to kiss Richie when he wasn't looking at him like that.

Finished with Richie's face Eddie moved to grab at his arm.

Richie immediately pulled away. "No Eds, you're free to go. I'll take care of that."

Eddie opened his mouth to say, 'don't call me that' but he stopped himself. Thinking about the last time he'd said it, the way he'd turned their thing against Richie, and Richie's face when he'd done it.

Instead he said, "Come on. Richie. It's soaked through your shirt. It looks bad."

"Just leave me with your stuff and I'll take care of it Dr. K."

"Richie," Eddie said, his eyes pleading. "If it doesn't heal right-"

"I know, I know, it'll get infected and I'll have to have my arm amputated or some shit," He rolled his eyes, "I don't really see how that would be your problem, Eddie."

"Because you my friend, Richie."

"You've made it pretty clear, Eddie, that I'm not," He made a move to stand, but Eddie grabbed his good arm to keep him sitting.

"Look, I'm sorry Richie," He had so much to say that he knew he couldn't. "I know I've been an asshole, but I'm just-It's just-"

Richie was searching his eyes, "Okay, okay, Eddie. It's fine, you weren't being an asshole," His voice much softer than Eddie had heard it in a long time. "I'm sorry."

Eddie blinked at him, "Sorry? For what?"

"For everything," Richie said, and Eddie was glad to see he was no longer trying to leave. "For making you uncomfortable, for being fucking weird, and getting close to you when you didn't even know-didn't even know that I-am the way I am."

"What?" Eddie started, baffled that Richie was somehow making this his fault, when Eddie had been nothing but a terrible friend to him. "No Richie, none of this is your fault."

Richie didn't seem at all convinced, "Then why have you been avoiding me? At the quarry you kept looking at me like I might attack, you couldn't fucking relax."

Eddie opened his mouth to say something. But the right words weren't there. "Can I just clean your fucking wound, please?"

Those weren't the right words, because Richie looked more convinced than ever that he had done something wrong. Eddie promised himself that he would set it right, that he would tell Richie that it was Eddie's fault not his. That Eddie was too messed up in the head to figure his shit out, that everytime he even tried his mother was in his head telling him all the bad things that could come of it.

Richie still looked hesitant. But he ultimately sighed, and loosened his grip on his arm. "Okay, but this was just Bowers being an asshole. It doesn't mean anything."

Eddie didn't know what that could mean, so he just pulled Richie's hand away from his arm and unwrapped the shirt. He winced, setting the shirt to the side of them. He took a better look and realized it wasn't just random cuts. It was letters. Bowers had carved R+E into Richie's arm.

"Rich," Eddie said, impossibly softly. "God, Richie."

"No one will see it," Richie said, not meeting his eyes. "I'll make sure, but I'm sorry if Bowers and the others give you shit. You know how they are, it doesn't mean anything."

"That's what you're worried about?" Eddie asked, wiping gently away at the mess and trying to not disturb the harsh cuts too much. Richie tensed anyway. "Richie they just fucking carved into your arm and you're worried that I'll be mad because it has something to do with me? You really think I'd give a shit?" He asked, looking Richie straight in the eye.

"Yes, Eddie," Richie finally met his eye, his stare a challenge. "I did think you'd give a shit. Because since this all started you've sure seemed to give a shit about eating with me, or being in the same room with me, or having anything to do with me at all. What was I supposed to think?"

Eddie went quiet, tears burning in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Richie."

Richie's eyes immediately softened. "It's alright Eds-Eddie. Can we just finish this so that you can go back to avoiding me?"

Eddie winced at the correction, but he deserved it, he'd fucked up their thing. He wanted to tell Richie that he didn't want to go back to avoiding him, but everytime he opened his mouth to do so he heard his mother's voice. The same words, over and over and over. He kept his mouth shut.

He finished cleaning the cuts, applied a maybe unnecessary amount of antibiotic, and carefully wrapped Richie's arm in gauze. He taped it up and admired his handiwork.

"You should really still see a doctor," Eddie said, squinting at the spot above Richie's eyebrow. "I'm serious about what could be on Bowers knife, you could get really sick. You should probably get a tetanus shot or something."

"Eh," Richie shrugged, smiling. "Benny boy got it right in the stomach and he's fine."

Eddie knew better than to argue, if Richie didn't want to see a doctor Eddie couldn't convince him. He only hoped Richie's mother would see what happened and drag him to one against his will.

It was all done, but neither of them moved. Eddie felt frozen in place, he felt for the second time like he was in a bubble, and as long as he was here Richie wasn't mad at him, and he didn't have to avoid Richie. And his feelings weren't wrong, he was just like Ben or Bill, who'd made their feelings for Bev so obvious the rest of the group would just share a knowing look whenever one of them did something embarrassingly sappy. Or he was just like all the stupid romance movies he'd grown up pretending not to like. They weren't two boys, this wasn't wrong, they were just Richie and Eddie. They were just sixteen and stupidly in love (or at least, Eddie was stupidly in love with Richie, he'd decided that somewhere along the way).

A lock of Richie's curls had gotten caught in the bandage above his eye, and Eddie leaned ever so slightly forward, brushing the hair away from his face. Richie was searching his eyes, like he was trying to puzzle something out. They were only inches apart, and Eddie could feel Richie's breath on his face, he leaned in a little more.

Richie opened his mouth, his eyes still searching, "Eddie?-"

Eddie closed the distance between their lips before Richie could say anything to ruin this. And it was Eddie's first kiss, so he didn't have much to compare to, but it felt like a good kiss. Richie tasted like cigarettes, which Eddie would have thought would be off-putting, but it wasn't, it just tasted like Richie. A thought wiggled at the back of Eddie's head, that this wasn't Richie's first kiss. And then he was thinking about Andrew and the party and how he didn't even know if Richie liked him like that.

Eddie pulled back, his cheeks burning, and put his hand on the back of his neck. "Sorry, uh, I shouldn't have-uh sorry."

Richie looked perplexed. "Eds," he breathed.

"God, I shouldn't have assumed that you'd want to-"

"Eds, are you kidding me?" Richie lifted his hand to Eddie's face, and Eddie felt like every place Richie touched burned underneath his skin. "I've wanted to do that since I was like thirteen, probably before that. I've had an embarrassing, stupid crush on you for way too long."

Eddie exhaled, "Oh, but what about-Andrew?"

"I don't know, I'm sixteen and I wanted to make out with someone. And would it be totally embarrassing and creepy if I admitted that I thought of your face while I kissed him?"

Eddie grinned, "Very creepy, and very embarrassing," His smile froze, "I'm sorry," He said suddenly, for what was probably the hundredth time that day, "I was an asshole, I never wanted you to think that I hated you. I was just scared, terrified, actually, and I still am. And hearing about you with him, it just made me think about things that I'd been specifically not thinking about for so long. I'm sorry."

Richie shook his head, bringing his other hand up to cup Eddie's face, "It's okay, Eddie, I'm scared too. I'm really fucking scared."

Eddie was crying now, and it was all so fucking embarrassing. Crying wasn't a typical first kiss experience, he didn't think. "It's just, my mom."

"Fuck your mom," Richie said, wiping Eddie's tears with his thumbs. He pulled Eddie into a hug, and Eddie buried his face in his shoulder and thought of his mothers hugs. He'd been wrong before, he hadn't felt safe in his mother's arms. He'd felt sheltered. He felt safe in Richie's arms, and loved, and like he was home. "Seriously, fuck her."

Eddie laughed against Richie's neck.

Eddie pulled back from the hug to look at Richie, and this time when he kissed him again Richie kissed back, his hands moving down to rest on Eddie's neck.

Richie pulled back to whisper, "You're way better at that than Andrew," With his stupid shit-eating grin.

Eddie shoved him lightly, then said, nervously, "I don't know if I'm ready to-for anyone to know. Not while I'm still with my mom, she would freak out, Richie, I don't even know how she would react. So if you can't keep this a secret, if you want to be with someone else, I understand. I wouldn't be mad," Even as Eddie said it, he thought about the way his stomach twisted seeing Andrew smile at Richie.

"Eddie Spaghetti," Richie shook his head, "I don't care, I didn't even want anyone to know about any of this in the first place. It's not a fucking cakewalk. And you're way, way, too cute to let go over something so stupid."

"Right," Eddie said, and fuck, he really just wanted to hurt all the people that had done that shit to Richie (Eddie knew the thought was absurd, he'd be overpowered by one shitty member of the Bowers gang, let alone three, but it didn't stop him from wanting it). "God, Richie. That was really shitty, what happened to you."

Richie shrugged, "Nothing a little Eddie love couldn't fix," He waggled his eyebrows.

"I'm immediately regretting everything I just said, you're completely insufferable," Eddie said it with a smile on his face. "Don't ever touch me with your gross tongue again, I'm pretty sure that I only kissed you because I was overwhelmed with sympathy over your terrible state. Because I just have the biggest heart."

"You can't take it back, Spaghetti," Richie grinned, grabbing Eddie's face on either side and peppering him with kisses. "You liiike me, and you're never gonna live it down."

"Hey, hey, hey," Eddie said, fighting back Richie's kisses. "You like me too, you said you've had a stupid crush on me for years. That's fucking embarrassing."

"Aw but Eds. Everyone knows that I think you're cute. It's no secret."

They spent the rest of the afternoon tangled together in the hammock, Eddie's leg hooked over Richie's thigh, Richie's hand in Eddie's hair. Reading comic books until it was too dark to see the pages.

Eddie changed his mind, he wasn't in a bubble down here. But as long as he had Richie to stand by him he could hand Bowers, and stupid rumors, and even whatever his mother might say (eventually. He couldn't picture himself telling his mother, it still made him feel sick).

He just felt warm, and he decided that they didn't have to be two boys, and it didn't have to be wrong. They could just be Richie and Eddie, and they could just be teenagers stupidly in love.